Teaching your Kids to Practice Empathy
Each of us is born with the innate ability to feel empathy for others. But much like most things in life, it is something that must be honed and practiced in order to be good at. Through guidance and encouragement, learning to treat others with compassion and to respond with an openness to differing viewpoints can become second nature for children. It is a process, but as parents, we are afforded many opportunities to encourage our kids to respond with empathy on a daily basis. The trick is learning to recognize and further provide those opportunities to our kids.
Here are some simple opportunities you can provide your children to encourage empathy.
Emphasize the family unit.
By focusing on your family as a composite of every member, you teach your child the importance of taking into account everyone’s best interest. A great way to practice this is by having regular family meetings. Should your family face challenges, getting together to discuss the situation together as a family emphasizes the worth of everyone in the family. Encourage your kids to share their opinions, ideas, and fears. Acknowledge what they share and be sure to encourage them to listen and acknowledge what other family members share.
Ask about your child’s peers.
When asking your child about their day at school, be sure to ask about their friends. Did they get to see them much that day? How are things going for that friend? If there’s a conflict between your child and any of their friends, ask questions that focus upon the other child’s emotions and views, too, so your child learns to see things from another perspective.
Talk with your kid about empathy and your expectations.
A casual conversation with your kid will have the most effect so look for natural opportunities. If you and your kid see someone behaving with empathy or with a decidedly strong lack of empathy, that’s a great moment to discuss that behavior. Ask questions about how your child thinks both parties feel in that situation? Guide your child to understanding how our behavior affects others and how a lack of empathy can be harmful to individuals and relationships.
Model empathetic behavior.
You are your kid’s first and strongest example for how they are expected to act and treat others. This means that if you’re messages of treating others with empathy aren’t backed by you modeling empathetic behavior, then your child isn’t very likely to do much more than pay lip service to the idea.